Your final exam will be a news feature story on the state of the
American Dream.
No rough drafts are requirednor will they be accepted. Exams
submitted past the deadline time will be subject to a 10-point
No exams will be accepted later than the deadline day unless you
have received written permission to submit after the due date.
The story of between 1,250 and 1,350 words will be based on seven to
ten interviews and online research
Your central task is to combine interviews with research and
take stock 0f the American Dream.
What your interviewees share with you—their experiences, their
views and their hopes—will form your story’s core. The research will
buttress the interviews. More on this later.
As we know, the American Dream holds great meaning in the United
States. Historically, it has been a firmly held belief that separates the
United States from the rest of the world.
Making the dream reality means a comfortable and secure middle
class life, complete with home ownership, college educations paid for
with family college funds, great vacations and a host of other perks. It
has long been an article of faith that if you worked hard enough the
American Dream could be yours.
For many Millennials and even younger Americans the dream has
become less about money and material possessions, and more about
achieving personal and professional goals.
Yet today there is disturbing evidence that realizing any version of the
dream hasbecome impossible oratminimuma daunting task.
This fundamental change is reflected in widespread voter disaffection. Fairly
recently, the Pew Research Center released a study showing conclusively that the
middle class is shrinking. Many other studies and journalistic reports have reached
the same conclusion.
What made the American Dream become elusive for so many? There
is little question that the 2008 recession was the basic cause. It marked
the bleakest time in American recent history since the Great Depression.
The toll was reflected in the flood of mortgage defaults and the army
of newly unemployed. Still others who managed to stay employed saw
their household incomes plunge as spouses lost jobs. According to some
analysts, the erosion of the American middle class began years before
the recession.
Officially, the recession is over. Mortgage defaults are down, as are
unemployment rates. However, few would argue that the economy is
truly robust.

Andso there is the accompanying conclusion thattheAmerican Dream
is in danger of dying or, in fact, has already died.
A New York Times analysis (posted on the class site) finds that the
American middle class is no longer the world’s wealthiest. Canada holds
that coveted spot. The middle class in several othercountries have seen
their incomes increase considerably since 2000, while here at home it
Nonetheless, the United States remains the number one destination for
immigrants. The promise of the American Dream for many of them is
very much alive and still realized.
We’ve posted suggested interview questions, but in brief your
interviews should show if your interviewee believes he or she has
achieved the American Dream and is enjoying its fruits today.
Depending on your interviewee’s age, you will wantto determine if he
or she has hopes of reaching the dream.
Has your interviewee suffered from the effects of the recession? If so,
how? Is he or she doing well today? Does he or she feel optimistic,
pessimistic or uncertainabout the future?
Your first step is to conduct a bit of online research. Thatwill provide
the foundation and background for the story
Your next step is to talk to a good cross-section of people about the
American Dream.
This is not an academic paper, but rather a current portrait of how
people feel about the American Dream and, by extension, how the
country is doing and likely to fare. That will be your focus.
Don’t make this a story that dwells on what happened, but rather on
the current situation and how people view the future.
Your reporting, however, should include research on the American
Dream and the economy. Several news reports and studies have been
posted. They provide excellent background and may even be cited, but
sparingly, please. Do not make the mistake of recycling the posted research
into your story. You are expected to do your own digging.
Again, however, the story should most heavily rely on your interviews.
And for the most part you will talk to regular people. A good mix is
quite important, so that you don’t end up with a skewed story.
Thus, take care to chat with professionals, blue-collar workers,
students, old people, maybe even someone younger than you.
Your seven to ten interviews need not be long—approximately 15
minutes is a good estimate.
In writing, be mindful of not starting your story in classic academic
fashion, with loads of data only to introduce your first interview
subject after several paragraphs.
Keeping your focus on people is the most effective way to tell this
story. Remember, you are trying to attract readers. Be sure to press
for anecdotes. They willprovide illustrativedetail.
The most effective way to write this story is by organizing it
thematically. Your research and interviews will unearth themes: The
American Dream’s golden years, when anyone who worked hard
would achieve it; the classic success stories; immigrants who came to
these shores and struck it rich; those who left their homeland only to
fall short of the dream; younger Americans with no realistic hope of
acquiring the comfortable and secure middle class life their parents
These themes ought to dictate your story’s organization.
Don’t make the basic mistake of presenting interview summaries in
random fashion. That would produce a terribly disorganized story
with no narrative thread.
Not all interviews will be of equal quality, so don’t feel
compelled to use all of them. You may want to use a small piece of
an interview. High quality interviews, on the other hand, should
figure prominently in your story.
You are likely to find this among the more interesting assignments of
your academic career. The core question of whether the American
Dream has seen better days is of undeniable historic importance.
This story will require a good deal of work, so please don’t wait until
the very last minute to start on it.
Set aside at least three days to conduct research and another dayand-a-half
to write and rewrite. The story’s quality will to a large
extent depend on the quality of the interviews. Hurried interviews will
be superficial. The same is true of research.
Don’t underestimate the time needed to produce quality
work. If you do, your story and course grade willsuffer.
**Important Requirement: At the end of your story, please list
the names and contact information for all of your interviewees. Be
sure before the interview that your interviewees are willing to
provide this information. If they are not, then select someone else to
interview. Failure to include this information will result in a
ten-point deduction.
Consult with us as much as you would like on any aspect of this project.
The goal is to ensure your final story is the very best it can be.


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